The proverbial economic cherry has been popped — we’re officially in a recession. Reporters have become all too good at semantic tongue-twisting with phrases like “economic downturn” and “dip in the economy,” but finally, after months of verbal foreplay and heavy petting, our economic situation can finally be called what it is.
On Monday we learned from the National Bureau of Economic Research that the United States has been in a recession since last December. There is a part of me that is glad for the announcement. I have grown tired of reporters’ cleaver euphemisms, and recently it has seemed the synonym function in Microsoft Word has been running dry.
Semantic accuracy is where my appreciation for Monday’s announcement stops. I don’t appreciate the timing of the announcement — just as the holiday spending season is underway the NBER decides it’s a great time to hit the American consumer with another stroke of fear.
Through the end of August, ideas of leveraging, short-selling, and interest spreads were the stuff of economics classes, which I whole-heartedly avoided. But the past few months have finally made me find economics relevant: after tuning in to what’s happening in the economy I’ve realized that this stuff is actually going to affect me. Problem is I’m still not quite sure when.
Although I am a job-hunting senior, I have not yet seen an instance of the recession directly influencing my life. Living in the comfortable confines of a well-funded college, I am seldom confronted with economic issues. I have no real assets, no house, no mortgage, no car (no car loan, gas bill, insurance). My meal plan affords complete removal from any sense of variability in food prices. My rent for the whole year is paid up front and is highly subsidized. The only appliance I own is an electric kettle; all of my belongings can be packed in 8 boxes. The only things I buy on a consistent basis are Ivy Noodle and coffee — neither of which is an accurate gauge of large economic fluctuations.
But the real world is just around the corner: I get kicked out of the placated passivity of living at Yale on June 1, and I get to say hello to the worst economy since the Great Depression! I am bracing now, seven months ahead, to get hit in the face with all of the economic pressures of living and feeling a real economy—and a really, really bad economy at that.
In making these preparations there is a part of me that wishes I was not a member of the Class of 2009. The classes ahead of mine had the luxury of multiple job offers, a virtual buffet of post-graduate options. The classes of 2011 and 2012 will probably have weathered the storm, entering the work world after Barack Obama’s brilliant economic team has helped the economy rebound — or so we can hope. Even the class of 2010 will have a more realistic view of post-graduate options available and be able to approach the situation more intelligently.
While there are many things that signal graduating this year is particularly grim, in this season of thanks I do find a certain comfort in my predestine graduating year. I am thankful that I did not graduate into an unrealistic job market and now must worry whether my job is secure. I am thankful I have not yet invested in any assets or had the opportunity to take out a subprime loan and am thus able to be agile in my post-college spending plans. I am thankful I will be forced to learn the lessons of living in a down economy, of saving and frugality.
Looking now to what to do with myself post-Yale I’ve come up with a backup plan that is really only realistic in a dire economy and only really possible for someone graduating college. With no dependents, no assets, few belongings and no real ties to any one place I’ve decided that if things get really bad, I don’t get a job or get into graduate school, I’ll pack my backpack and travel like Kerouac, Che Guevara or Huck Finn. Live on little and see the world, wait for the economy to get back in shape then pick up where I left off.
While most of me hopes I don’t have to go with this plan F, it is comforting to know that no matter what, I will be doing something after graduation.
Lauren Russell is a senior in Davenport College.